Mastering IB Psychology SAQs: A Comprehensive Guide to Ace Your Exam

Embarking on your journey through the IB Psychology curriculum involves mastering various assessment components, none more critical than the Short Answer Questions (SAQs) in Paper 1. Now that you've got your IB Psychology exam study plan sorted (see part 1 of this blog series here), understanding how to write successful SAQ responses under timed conditions is pivotal. But what makes a flawless SAQ response? This step-by-step guide breaks it down.

Introduction to SAQs

SAQs in IB Psychology are designed to assess your understanding of research methods and scientific processes through focused questions. These questions often require you to succinctly describe a theory or explain specific findings.

In paper 1, you will be asked three SAQs, one from each of the Biological, Cognitive and Sociocultural approaches. Each SAQ is worth 9 marks, with a total of 27 marks up for grabs in paper 1. You have 60 minutes to answer these SAQs, so optimising your approach to these questions and managing your time to ensure you devote roughly 20 minutes to each question, is crucial for your overall performance.

Breaking Down the Criteria

Focus on the question

To excel in SAQs, your responses must directly address the question and meet the requirements of the common term used, such as 'describe' or 'explain'. Responses should not stray off-topic.

Accuracy and depth of knowledge

Responses should be accurate and demonstrate a depth of detailed and precise psychological knowledge. This requires you to remember definitions for specific concepts (e.g., localisation, or neuroplasticity) and terms that you mention whilst explaining your research study and its link to the question.

Linking research to the question

Essentially, responses must show how the study’s results support the concept or theory mentioned in the question.

The Formula to a Successful SAQ Response


1. Answer the question in one sentence

To do so, you can begin by restating the question: “this response will explain the theory of … , with reference to the study by … “.  Make sure to mention the study’s researchers and date published. Make sure to pay attention to the command term used in the question. For example, ‘explain’ means to refer to the ‘reasons and causes’ of a phenomenon, whereas ‘describe’ means to provide an account of its main features. This will be an important consideration throughout your response.

2. Define any key concepts or terms you will be using in your response

Briefly define any critical terms or concepts you'll be discussing, this can be one or two sentences. You may, for example, define short and long-term memory, and the sensory buffer.

3. Explain the relevance to the topic

Provide some background information on the concept – this is essential for hitting the ‘knowledge and understanding’ criteria. What is the central argument behind the study? For example, for the theory of reconstructive memory, you could discuss the concept that memories are not an exact replication of the information we receive, and that they can be influenced by information we receive after the fact – as in, memories can be ‘reconstructed’. This should be one to two sentences.

Body Paragraph

1. Topic sentence

Clearly mention the study you're referencing and its link to the research question, by stating its aim. For example, ‘the theory of localisation of function is supported by the study conducted by Milner on patient HM, and aimed to investigate… ’

2. Describe the study

Outline who the participants were, the procedures the researchers used to study the topic, the main findings, and the conclusions drawn by the researchers.

3. Link study to the question

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking this last sentence is unnecessary! It is essential for re-establishing your focus on the question. Here, in one sentence, outline how the findings of the study link to the question. For example, if patient HM could no longer form new episodic and semantic memories after his lobotomy, what does this tell us about whether these functions are localised to a specific brain region?


All you need is one sentence summarising your answer to the question. For example, you could propose that your response has offered support for the given theory, making reference to your supporting study.


And there you go! A simple guide covering the components of an introduction, body and conclusion to craft a successful SAQ response, within a 20 minute time limit. Ensure to practice under timed conditions, and persevere until you are crafting focused SAQs with ease!


Ready to tackle your IB Psychology exams with confidence? This is Part 2 in a blog series providing expert tips to master IB Psychology. You can read the other parts of this series by heading to our blog and other resources on Learnmate. You can also connect with experienced tutors at Learnmate to start working towards achieving your potential in IB Psychology. Share this guide with your peers and start your journey to academic success today!


This blog was written by Claudia Z, an Online IB Tutor on Learnmate. Claudia has been studying a Bachelor of Health Science (Premed) since graduating with a 99.7 ATAR and 44 score in IB. She excelled in the IB program and now tutors students in IB Psychology, English A Literature, Chemistry, French, History and Maths.

You can view her profile and, subject to her availability, request Claudia as your tutor here.

Share this post
Article Author


Background Divider
© Copyright Learnmate 2024
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram